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Paul Goes Fishing
posted May 1, 2008
Drawn and Quarterly, softcover, 208 pages, March 2008, $19.95
Paul Goes Fishing
contains some of Michael Rabagliati's best sequences yet, including but not limited to an extended meditation on his brother-in-law's devotion to fishing, a comparison between the youthful habits of himself and a successful friend, a lovely conversation with his sister about a boy she tried to adopt and a long, affecting story about trying to run away from home while a young teen. There's an intimacy to the best moments that I think is the result of Rabagliati's assured pacing; you're kind of eased into every moment. In fact, when things in the story turn for the worse, it's almost more upsetting than if Rabagliati used a more staccato visual rhythm or frequently tried for loftier, more dramatic moments scene to scene.
I think two elements keep Rabagliati from joining the upper ranks of North American cartoonists. The first is that the Paul character comes across as more of a pleasant companion than a compelling character. He's portrayed in a way that's critical but never ugly or disappointing. Worse these negative factor only crop up with the permission of the narrative, a feel along the lines of "now for a moment where we learn something not so fantastic about Paul." This puts a slight wobble into some of Rabagliati's slams against easier targets, particularly the schoolchildren that bullied or ignored him as a youth or the modern kids at the fishing camp which one assumes leads Paul to think about how much he disliked kids like that of his own age. I'm not sure that Rabagliati can make more complex his lead without destroying some of the geniality of his stories, but perhaps he could stop pairing that positive portrayal with such blanket condemnations of even the worst creeps he encounters -- not because they aren't awful people, they certainly might be, but because it feels like a harsher process that begs rigorous self-examination.
The second is that the book ultimately fails to cohere, by which I mean you'll remember a string of incidents more than the overall arc of Paul Goes Fishing
, let alone feel that one story had much to do with another. Despite what seems like carefully crafted narrative in terms of selecting and assembling a string of anecdotes, I'm at a loss to describe what cumulative or informative impact they have, particularly on the segment, lovely in itself, when Rabagliati's story takes its final, extended turn. The cartooning here is so pleasant, the characters so basically appealing, I don't think anyone will grow impatient with Rabagliati as he continues to develop as an artist. But when he reaches for profundity as he does here in a scene of a church without the weight of the entire narrative behind him as opposed to the last eight pages, readers are more likely to feel deflated or even manipulated than thrilled.